Travel lightly, and lighter than you think is necessary

It is often the case that travellers take more than they think they need. If you are moving yourself from places that are familiar to places unfamiliar, isn’t it reasonable to accompany yourself with familiar objects. Thus, in the words of Neil and Tim Finn, “everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you.”

When I was a teenager I was invited to take part in a youth service expedition to Lesotho, in southern Africa. We were to help build a water supply for a youth centre in the highland village of Thaba-Tseka.1 It was my first time in Africa, and I didn’t know what to expect, or how to furnish myself for being away from England for three weeks. I borrowed a suitcase from my parents, one of those 1950s heavy-duty suitcases, designed for three-week ocean transportation to the Far East, with a frame constructed from teak, good English oak, and the dreams of Empire. It must’ve weighed 50 kg empty. So, to fill its cavernous and weighty spaces, I took a box set of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books: because, you know, when you’re travelling to Africa for the first time as a 17 year old, you will want and have time to read seven allegories of the Christian life…

Ironically, C. S. Lewis himself had already addressed this tendency. In the spring of 1927 Jack Lewis went on a short walking holiday with three friends, Owen Barfield, Cecil Harwood, and Walter ‘Wof’ Field. As Jack relates, in a letter to his brother, one of them had over-prepared for the occasion:

Now for my own adventures. I was joined [on 19 April 1927] at Oxford station by two others and we proceeded together to Goring. One of them was new to the game and turned up carrying a Tommies pack filled square like a tommy’s pack, for inspection. On the way we extracted from it a large overcoat, a sponge, four shirts, a heavy tin mug holding about a pint, two strong metal cigarette cases of pudaita proportions, and a number of those insane engines which some people associate with holidays. You know— the adaptable clasp knife which secrets a fork at one end and a spoon at the other, but in such a way that you could never really use the fork and the spoon together — and all those sort of things. Having recovered from our delighted laughter and explained that we were going to walk in an English county and not in Alaska, we made up the condemned articles into a parcel wh. we compelled him to Post home from Goring. It weighed about seven pounds.

C. S. Lewis, Letter to His Brother, 26 April 1927, in Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. W. H. Lewis and Walter Hooper, Revised and enlarged edition (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017), pp289-290

We need to learn to travel lightly.

  1. Curiously enough, this was right at the end of the period in which James Ferguson studied the work of the Tabha-Tseka development project, and criticised it as The Anti-Politics Machine . Unwittingly, I was part of post-colonial economic imperialism, a project that continues to this day – just look at the argument developing between Italy and France over the latter’s economic “assistance” program for Africa. []